VA Doctor Appointments and Coronavirus: How Can You Stay Safe?

hospital waiting room with people wearing masks

You have a scheduled medical appointment at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility, but you have a nagging cough and cold symptoms. What do you do?

I understand. You don't want to walk into a hospital waiting room and sit there coughing. Everyone will move away from you. Or the reverse: You don't want to walk into a hospital waiting room that is full of people who are coughing and sneezing and possibly walk out sick yourself.

Let's face it, hospital waiting rooms are full of sick people. What do you do if you have an appointment at a VA hospital and COVID-19 is making its way through the population?

Your options depend on the reasons for your appointment.

  1. Filling or renewing prescriptions. If the only reason you need to go see the doctor is to get a refill or renewal on a prescription, you should really think about using an alternative way to get those medications. Even if your prescription has run out of refills, you can probably get your doctor to authorize one by explaining your situation. The easiest way is by requesting a refill online. Refilling your VA prescriptions online is actually a very simple process. It usually takes a week or so to get your prescriptions in the mail after requesting refills online. Check out the VA website for more information.
  2. Going to another location. If sitting in a waiting room with dozens of sneezing and coughing people isn't your idea of a fun day, you should look into moving your appointment to another location. You may be able to go to one of VA's 1,074 outpatient clinics. These clinics often provide the same level of medical care as a big hospital, but in a smaller neighborhood setting. Also, your local clinic may be closer to home or easier to get to than a hospital in the city. It might even be easier to get an appointment at an outpatient clinic than at a hospital. Or, depending on your situation, you may be able to move your appointment to a civilian provider. Find a VA location near you.
  3. Rescheduling your appointment. Let's face it. Almost every health care provider in the world is pretty busy right now. So, if your appointment isn't urgent, your doctor probably won't really be upset if you reschedule it to a later date. Contact your local VA medical center.
  4. Request an online appointment. You may not know that the VA offers online live chat and live video conferencing with health care professionals. While some of these services are available only in select locations, they can be quite valuable. They are actually pretty easy to use too. Check out VA's mobile apps.
    • VA Health Chat is an online chat system that allows you to contact VA health care professionals to get answers to your questions, refill prescriptions and manage your appointments. Currently, this application is available only in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
    • VA Video Connect lets you talk with your health care team face to face from almost any electronic device with an internet connection and a camera. You can use your phone, laptop, desktop or tablet computer. While the application is available worldwide, your individual physician may not be using it currently, or there may be restrictions. Contact your VA medical provider for more information.

You can refill your prescriptions and reschedule or move your appointment to another location either online or over the phone. Personally, I've found it easier to refill prescriptions online and reschedule appointments over the phone, but every office is different.

Just remember, don't cancel your appointment without contacting the VA first! This is especially true if you have a medical appointment related to an examination for a disability rating. If you miss one of those appointments, you risk having your disability rating reduced or canceled. You may also have to begin the whole disability rating process all over again if you miss a scheduled rating exam.

Also, remember that all medical personnel are quite busy right now. If you don't show up for a scheduled appointment, the doctor, nurse and everyone else is wasting time waiting for you when they could be treating someone who is seriously ill.

Another important thing to remember is that, if you want to move your appointment to a civilian provider, you need the VA's permission or you will be paying for the appointment yourself.

If you are truly ill, just go to the hospital and use common sense. While there are some parts of the country that have more COVID-19 infections than others, your risk of getting ill is slim if you take the proper precautions.

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